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Get Your Hands on Your Future
Three years ago Chancellor Charles W. Sorensen announced stricter measures to reduce alcohol abuse among University of Wisconsin-Stout students, and a new survey indicates the effort is working.
The average number of alcoholic beverages consumed by drinkers is down, as are the number of underage drinking citations processed in Dunn County Circuit Court and students disciplined by the UW-Stout’s Dean of Students office. Just as important, the percentage of students who are abstaining from alcohol is increasing, as is the percentage of students who say they are aware of the drug and alcohol regulations.
“I am pleased that our strong and decisive steps to address alcohol abuse on campus apparently are starting to work,” Sorensen said. “I know that we haven’t won the war over risky alcohol use, but we have taken important first steps in that direction.”
In March 2010, Sorensen sent a memo to campus detailing the steps he believed were necessary “to address a serious situation on our campus affecting the lives, safety, health and well-being of our students and the community — the high-risk abuse of alcohol by too many of our students.”
UW-Stout had lost six students in alcohol-related incidents in two years and, Sorensen wrote, “We also have seen other effects of alcohol abuse by our students, including serious injuries to themselves or others (including suicide); sexual assault; careless use of smoking materials resulting in fire; drunken driving; and felony criminal charges.”
The steps Sorensen outlined included holding more Friday classes to encourage students to drink less on Thursday nights; boosting the disciplinary measures taken by the Dean of Students office for alcohol-related offenses; and working with community partners to curb the availability of alcohol off campus, including cracking down on large house parties.
“I firmly believe that we have a moral and an ethical obligation to pursue all reasonable avenues to address alcohol abuse by our students,” Sorensen said at that time.
Campus officials, following the chancellor’s memo, put together details of a plan with a three-pronged approach to combat alcohol abuse: engagement, education and enforcement.
“This has been a comprehensive approach that has a lot of people involved and invested,” said Joan Thomas, dean of students, who led the effort. “It’s going in the right direction, but we still have work to do.”
According to a survey of UW-Stout students, conducted by the campus Applied Research Center:
• The average number of weekly alcohol beverages reported by drinkers decreased from a high of 10.7 in 2007 to 8.9 in 2013. Declines were among male and female drinkers.
• The percentage of students who said they abstained from alcohol use during the previous 30 days increased from 17 percent in 2005 to 29.1 percent in 2013.
• The percentage of students who said they were aware of drug and alcohol regulations increased from 59 percent in 2007 to nearly 79 percent in 2013.
On the enforcement side, the Dean of Students office placed 115 students on probation and suspended 45 students in 2010-11 for serious alcohol violations, including having a high blood alcohol content, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, hosting a large party with underage drinkers and committing assault.
Those numbers in 2011-12 were 140 on probation and 25 suspended. This year, however, the numbers have decreased significantly to 24 on probation and eight suspended (through March).
Furthermore, the number of underage drinking citations processed by Dunn County Circuit Court decreased from a high of 812 in 2010 to 647 in 2012.
The number of class sections held on Fridays has increased from 403 in fall 2009 to 529 in fall 2013.
Thomas said it is important to emphasize that UW-Stout has many collaborators in the community, including the Dunn County Partnership for Youth and the Dunn County Alcohol Task Force, which have worked with the Chancellor’s Coalition for Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse on the issue.
“We have been able to collaborate with the community in many, many ways,” Thomas said. “That has been the key to our success.”
Members of the Chancellor’s Coalition have prepared a presentation to give to community groups on the alcohol abuse plan and the progress made so far. Presenters include Amy McGovern, assistant director of University Housing; Jacob Bloom, a UW-Stout counselor and co-chair of the Chancellor’s Coalition; and Nate Kirkman, assistant dean of students and the other coalition co-chair.